Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who spent eight years on death row in Pakistanfor blasphemy before she was freed last year, has flown to Canada where she has reunited with her family, her lawyer has said.
“It is a big day,” Saiful Malook told the Guardian. “Asia Bibi has left Pakistan and reached Canada. She has reunited with her family. Justice has been dispensed.”
Bibi’s arrival in Canada could mark the end of a nine-year ordeal for the farm labourer whose case – based on a dubious accusation she had insulted the prophet Muhammad – became linked to the assassinations of a provincial governor and a cabinet minister and a cause célèbre among Christian and human rights activists.
She has been in protective custody since she was released from prison last year after Pakistan’s top court acquitted her of blasphemy. By the afternoon of the verdict on 31 October, demonstrators wielding clubs had blocked highways and were pelting police with stones in cities including the capital, Islamabad, and Karachi.
Islamist groups including Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), a movement dedicated to upholding Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, protested for three days after the verdict, paralysing parts of the country until the government struck an agreement that included a promise the case would be appealed. The supreme court upheld the acquittal in January.
Canada had offered Bibi asylum, but close friends had told the Guardian the woman was being prevented from leaving by authorities. Her children left for the country late last year.
Malook said Bibi’s safe arrival in Canada was the result of hard work by activists, foreign diplomats and others “who stood by Bibi in hard times and worked for her freedom”.